A big thank you to my sister in Seattle for pointing out that Google translator translates ‘istehkam’ as ‘establishment’, but it’s unlikely that the English name for the newest political party in town will carry this word. Because it doesn’t need to.
And a frustrated Imran Khan trying to turn the tables on the establishment, for finally taking the wind out of his party, would do better to dwell on the time when the same establishment employed the same kingmaker, not more than one electoral cycle ago, to jet the same electables into PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) that now continue to desert him and swell the ranks of Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party.
That tells you something about this establishment, doesn’t it, especially if you buy the dominant narrative on the ground, mostly PTI-driven, that the military didn’t keep its word of distancing itself from politics? But why’s nobody talking about what it says about politicians, especially the lot that was busy prizing away true power from the clutch of the military and delivering true freedom, haqeeqi azadi, to the people? “Tera baap bhi day ga azadi,” and all that?
How is it that pretty much the same bunch manages to gather around the blue-eyed boy of the time whenever Pakistanis need a new Pakistan? There was a time when the familiar bunch flocked to Nawaz Sharif when IJI (Islami Jamhoori Ittehad) fought, first unsuccessfully, against the state being taken over by a foreign-influenced family and, worst of all, a woman.
Years later, the usual suspects lent unwavering support to General Musharraf’s sub sey pehlay Pakistan crusade, even claimed that he needed to keep his uniform to strengthen the democratic setup. Then, after a few more rounds of musical chairs, a lot of the same champions of democracy flew first-class, on Jahangir Tareen’s plane, to wage “jihad” for Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan.
The latest chapter of this long story is the most interesting, and instructive, one. The rush to Imran – when almost all pieces of the puzzle had fallen into place, especially after Nawaz was disqualified, again! – was the call of conscience. The military, too, was suddenly celebrated as democratic, and General Bajwa dubbed the most “democratic general” by none other than the self-styled khalifa of the would-be “Riyasat-e-Madina” himself.
Between then and now, we did break a lot of fresh ground. Stung by his fall, Imran lashed out at anybody and everybody that didn’t agree 100 percent with him, and threw everything the thesaurus had under Mir Jaffar and Mir Sadiq at the army high command, finally provoking his legions of followers, on 9 May 2023, to bite the hand that fed him the premiership less than five years ago. And then democracy’s mujahideen started showing up, in hordes, at the istehkam, or establishment, party.
PTI’s trying to keep face by describing the flight of “migratory birds” as “good riddance”, since now it knows the difference between true believers in Imran’s Riyasat-e-Madina and those whose jihad was limited to stealing his spotlight.
But it hasn’t yet explained how the leader who always knows everything better than the rest of the world, quite literally, chose to fill his kitchen cabinet with political opportunists whose resumes boasted nothing more than foul-mouthed rhetoric that pleased their former masters; till they deserted them for more promising democratic pastures, of course. No word on why the chairman was smiling ear-to-ear when they were coming his way, especially when their profanity was directed at his opponents.
Now, whether you love them or hate them or are part of them or not, these turncoats that make our political elite will dominate the headlines all the way to the next elections, at least. You could, and no doubt should, call out the establishment for its unending puppeteering, but also consider if it would really be able to pull almost everybody’s strings so easily if democratic parties, all of them, weren’t littered with political courtesans?
Remember, we’re still waiting for progressive, educated Pakistanis to enter the political mainstream, even after seven-and-a-half decades, because political parties, not the military, only allow the rich, powerful and influential into their fold; and even from them, mostly feudal lords and industrial barons are awarded tickets because they have the money to throw into election campaigns. If you talk to the middle class, like journalists do, they’ll tell you why they’d rather leave the polarised, paralysed, decaying and defaulting country than wait any longer for Godot.
So, as legitimate as criticising the establishment for its interference is – especially when it trends on twitter and makes money for your vlogs – wouldn’t it have a lot more weight, and validity, if the democrats and politicians we value so much also had at least an ounce of credibility?
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023